Way back in the mid-1600s what’s been called the “Tulip Mania” struck the Dutch Republic in Europe. During that time, the Dutch were among the wealthiest and most powerful nations of Europe, with vast economic power. In the early 1630s the recently introduced tulip flower became wildly popular. And when I say popular, I mean popular.
The demand for certain tulip bulbs among the wealthy of the region grew to stunning levels. At the height of the mania for tulips, single bulbs sold for truly amazing sums. A single highly sought-after bulb could cost as much as a mansion. Then, in February of 1637, people apparently realized that they were going nuts over, well, a flower. The market collapsed, lives were ruined, and common-sense regarding vegetation returned. But for a time, if you had the scarce and desirable item that everyone wanted, you were, at least on paper, wealthy. Economists call this the very first “bubble economy,” and when bubbles pop, bad things happen.
I thought of the famous tulip mania recently when I went to the grocery story to buy toilet paper.
As Colorado and the nation struggle through the current coronavirus crisis, lots of Coloradans are buying up TP to hoard, in part due to need, and perhaps in part due to a desire to feel in control of a situation beyond any actual control. And because I am a political kind of guy, I can’t help but wonder about the impact of the virus on the very active political world our state finds itself in, particularly regarding the U.S. Senate race.
With more and more schools, colleges and universities, as well as many other organizations and businesses, closing or taking other steps to reduce human contact, the coronavirus cannot help but impact our political process. The Washington Post's famous motto is “democracy dies in darkness,” and at least some level of darkness — or at least dimming — is inevitable for those running to replace Cory Gardner.
How, exactly, do you run for the Senate when large gatherings are frowned on? How do you reach out to voters when they likely don’t really want to shake hands? I suspect most if not all rallies will be canceled (President Trump has already canceled his planned Colorado trip to support Gardner), but that’s not all.
Both parties run county, district, and state assemblies and conventions to pick their various candidates, especially those for Senate and for presidential delegates to the national conventions. But how likely is it that those meetings will actually take place? As a recent Colorado Politics story reported, there are no mechanisms within either party to hold “virtual” meetings either online or to let delegates vote remotely. As reported in CoPo, both parties are just now heading into a six-week stretch of lots of meetings, assemblies and conventions.
So, what are Colorado’s party leaders to do? On the GOP side, it may be fairly simple, as for the major offices involved (Senate and White House) there will be little worry about the process. But for the Democrats there is a virtual minefield of challenges.
If, for example, the Dems waive the rules and allow an online assembly, there will likely be worries about transparency and openness — the darkness the Washington Post fears. Should the outcome of the Senate race, for example, end up with only Hickenlooper and Romanoff put through to the primary, I suspect some of the other candidates might cry foul, asserting that there were shenanigans afoot. We need look no further than the Iowa caucus to see the turmoil that can be created by too great a reliance on computer communications.
Even if the electronic logistics can be worked out, candidates and political parties count on events like conventions and assemblies, and especially rallies, to motivate voters and more importantly, volunteers. Elections are won or lost based on many things, but it is very difficult to win without a quality ground game, especially when it comes to GOTV — political speak for Get Out The Vote. We all recall the phone calls urging us to mail in our ballots, and those calls are very important to winning an election. And who makes those calls? Volunteers who are inspired by the candidates. Inspiration can come from many things, but attending rallies, hearing the words of the candidates, and getting motivated to help are all important, and are all much harder when group meetings are frowned upon or perhaps even banned temporarily.
We are in uncharted political waters. With shaking hands and kissing babies now taboo, and with political meetings uncertain, it’s hard to read the political tea leaves. The next few months will be very interesting. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go shopping for, well, you know. And maybe I’ll pick up a couple of tulip bulbs, just to be safe.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.